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Welding steel and pumping iron

From welding to weightlifting, Byron looks to make an impact on the Toronto fitness community
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Ever since he was a teen, Fulkerth has been set on bodybuilding. COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES MEDIA.JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY
Ever since he was a teen, Fulkerth has been set on bodybuilding. COURTESY OF VARSITY BLUES MEDIA.JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY

Before bodybuilding, Toronto-based Byron Fulkerth’s job was pretty lame. He was a welder working long and repetitive hours on the vast prairie. Today, though, he’s a fitness trainer in Toronto with an enormous social media following and a passion for competing at dog shows. How did this all change? The Varsity sat down with Byron Fulkerth to figure out just that.

The story begins in Innisfree, Alberta, where Fulkerth grew up in a rodeo family. But in his teens, Fulkerth discovered a different kind of passion: bodybuilding. 

“Fitness for me really allowed me to find some self acceptance. I was able to challenge myself physically and set goals,” he said. “Growing up gay in Alberta was not in my control… I lost a lot of friends coming out of the closet, but discipline in the gym was truly in my control.”

Fulkerth discovered workout programs in magazines and, later, p90x fitness DVDs that helped him develop strong habits. “It’s just about sticking to [the] plan and holding consistency… 90 days was enough for you to see a significant improvement,” Fulkerth said. “It was something that I couldn’t steal, I couldn’t buy, I couldn’t borrow from anybody. I had to earn it.”

After graduating from school in a class of only eight students, Fulkerth wanted to expand his view of the world. As it turned out, the television personality Oprah Winfrey gave him some life-changing advice. 

“Oprah Winfrey was on every day at four o’clock… on one of my four channels at the time,” said Fulkerth. “She talked about vision boards and visualization and, you can see it, you can achieve it.” 

Soon, Fulkerth was busy cutting up Men’s Health magazine, searching for images of fitness and strength that he wanted to embody. 

“I literally would just take my face, and I’d cut my face out of the school photo and [glue] it on a Men’s Health physique,” he said. “I still have that with me now.” Youthful Fulkerth looks quite out of place on the chiseled pecs and biceps of the magazine model, but today, he doesn’t need to use scissors and tape. Oprah’s plan worked, as you can see.

After school, Fulkerth didn’t immediately become a personal trainer. He started a bachelor of science degree at MacEwan University but soon dropped out because of a paralyzing fear of debt. 

“I took a different route and I went to trade school, something that I could make money while getting my education at the same time,” he said. Fulkerth welded “mindlessly” on lonely 12 hour shifts until, at last, “our economy had come to a screeching halt.”

Unable to earn a living in welding, Fulkerth turned his attention to his passion, and with his previous training experience, he became Darby Training Systems certified as a fitness professional. Then began the slow process of building clientele.

During his private training sessions, he made sure to be his best self, making people feel confident and welcome no matter their athleticism. 

“When you are engaged with a client or with people, you have to be on, you have to be able to bring your best foot forward to each session, because you might be that person’s only 160 minute encounter of the day,” said Fulkerth. 

He also thinks that, although the media is doing a better job today, bodybuilding can feel heteronormative to many queer athletes. Major progress was made by Bob Paris back in 1989. Paris was a champion body builder who came out as gay in the Iron Man and, coincidentally, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Paris says that in that decade, he quickly lost 80 per cent of his sponsorships and endorsements — nevertheless paving the way for queer athletes around the world. 

“Your vibe kind of attracts your tribe,” said Fulkerth. At this point in his career, he said, “I do get a lot of clients who feel more comfortable working with a gay guy.”

Given his love of competition and his drive to train, you may not be surprised to learn that Fulkerth and his Portuguese Water Dog, Clark, hold major national dog show titles in Canada and the US. 

“I’ve been to shows in all different parts of North America. The people are just the same… You have those people who are super intense, don’t talk to anyone else. The people who are yelling at their dogs, the other people who show up late… Even the cattiness that you see in that show is so spot on.”

Despite the whimsical appearance of dog show competitions, Fulkerth has formed a deep bond with Clark in their years of training. “He does core work and balance work,” he said. “It’s a huge part of my life, our world pretty much revolves around him.”

From his beginnings in Innisfree to his stint as a welder to his current career exercising and helping others do the same, Fulkerth’s life has changed dramatically in the last decade. He currently feels passionate and fulfilled by his occupation, a lesson that matters to him.

“I just happened to stumble upon something that could create a lot of passion,” he says. “If you are enjoying the process, it’s not work at all.”

Patience and trust are his main messages for those seeking a new path. Maybe Fulkerth’s success is a testament to bodybuilding, an endorsement of p90x, or the benefits of some canine magic found in the Westminster Kennel Club. 

What one can say is that Oprah’s visualization trick seems to have worked. 

Recently, Fulkerth was shocked when — in addition to his 122,000 Instagram followers — Men’s Health magazine followed his fitness page. He described the recognition as a “pretty neat and surreal experience,” which sounds to me like an understatement.

You, too, can follow Byron Fulkerth online @Byronful on Instagram, and check out the collaborations he does with his sponsors LuluLemon, Cellucor Supplements, and Tonic Performance.